Crime and gangster films function on atmospheric tension and character drama and the best way to convey both of these aspects is to place the cold-blooded protagonists in an over-populated environment and the best place for the job is the one and only New York City. Although I’ll admit that using the city as a setting for a crime drama can create breath-taking cinematography — I cannot say as a New Yorker that I’ve ever experienced any real life drama on these “mean streets.”
When I was first introduced to Antonie Fuqua’s latest film “Brooklyn’s Finest” via my Trailer Talk, I called it a “psuedo-Scorsese crime picture” and I’ll admit that I was wrong. After seeing the actual film, I can confidently say that “Brooklyn’s Finest” steals elements from several acclaimed crime dramas and this ruins the film’s appeal.
“Brooklyn’s Finest” follows the distant but ultimately interconnected stories of three Brooklyn cops — Eddie, Sal and Tango. Within several moments of the film, Richard Gere’s character Eddie wakes up, takes a swig of whiskey and puts a gun in his mouth. Luckily, the gun isn’t loaded and we, as the audience, find out Eddie only has a week left until retirement. Unfortunately for the disillusioned officer, he is ordered to mentor rookies in a teaching program that sends rookie officers into the city’s highest crime areas.
Eddie’s story is perhaps the easiest to relate to, though it’s also least interesting. We’ve all had weeks that we just dreaded the very essence of and we’ve all had moments where we become unsatisfied with our accomplishments. Gere, with his stoic persona, executes the character perfectly, though it’s a shame that Eddie’s personal drama only manages to grasp interest during the first and last act of the film.
The second of the three characters is Tango, played by Don Cheadle. Tango is an undercover cop who becomes too involved in his case. After spending years undercover, the lines between his cover life and his personal life begin to blur, thus causing him to protect Caz — the drug lord he was originally slated to catch.
There is more drama in Tango’s story than there is in Eddie’s and the chemistry between Cheadle and Wesley Snipes, who plays Caz, is undeniably strong. However, Tango’s entire fiasco is also the most implausible and clichéd. Tango’s story is also damned by Cheadle’s unusually mediocre performance.
Lastly, Ethan Hawke’s character, Sal, is a struggling narcotics cop who steals drug money from raids so he can move his children and pregnant wife out of a mold-infested home. Sal constantly teeters from good cop to bad cop and Hawke’s latest collaboration with Fuqua is truly brilliant. Though it’s obvious Sal is doing horrible things, it’s almost hard not to root for him as his situation is tremendously stressful and being on a cop’s salary doesn’t help at all.
Though there are countless comparisons to be drawn from “Brooklyn’s Finest,” it’s still a decent film. Fuqua’s direction does lead to some tense scenes but other than Sal’s story, the film is mostly a bore.
Aside from its lack of originality, “Brooklyn’s Finest” also suffers from a script that relies too heavily on profanity. Though it’s understandable considering Tango, Eddie and Sal are so deeply involved in the city’s underbelly, the constant cussing quickly becomes tedious and this brings down the entire film’s level of intelligence.
In all, Antoine Fuqua’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” does shine mainly due to Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke’s performances, but it never rises above standard procedure.
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